More than once, Scripture states that God does not regret divine decisions. According to Numbers, “God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of humanity, that he should regret (נחם; nacham)” (23:19). Other translations say that God does not “repent” or that the Lord cannot “change his mind.” Yet, this seems to contradict other instances of God regretting prior actions. Before the flood, “the Lord regretted (נחם; nacham) that he had made humanity” (Genesis 6:6), and God decides to start anew. So, does God “regret” or not? The apparent dilemma dissolves when we read the contexts of the verses that describe divine decision-making. When the text states that God renounces regret, this word pertains to the matter at hand. In other words, God’s refusal to reconsider is not an unchanging divine attribute, but rather a particular pledge for a specific setting.

In the example from Numbers above, Balaam—a non-Israelite seer—speaks to the Moabite king, Balak. Hoping that Balaam has cursed Israel, Balak asks him, “What has the Lord spoken (דבר; diber)?” (Num 23:17). Balaam, whose curse God has turned into a blessing, responds, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of humanity that he should regret (נחם; nacham). Has he stated but will not do, or spoken (דבר; diber) but will not affirm? Behold, I received a command to bless; [God] has blessed, and I cannot reverse it” (23:19-20). Balak wants to know what God has spoken in this particular instance, and Balaam tells him that the Lord has spoken an irreversible blessing. If we recite Numbers 23:19 out of context, then it can sound like a universal declaration about God’s consistent inability to change direction in deed or thought; however, in its proper context, the verse speaks of God not regretting the decision to bless Israel.

Contextual reading also alleviates unnecessary tension elsewhere. In First Samuel, God says, “I regret (נחם; nacham) that I have made Saul king” (1 Sam 15:11); and then, in the very same chapter, we read that God “is not a human being, that he should regret” (15:29). Here, again, God’s denial of regret pertains to the immediately preceding word to Saul, namely that “the Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day” (15:28). On this day, the Lord will not retract the decree. While the Lord regrets making Saul king, God will not regret removing him from the throne.

Certainly, God is capable of regret (indeed, God is capable of anything)—to deny this would be to deny the words before the flood: “I regret (נחם) that I have made [humanity]” (Gen 6:7). When Scripture says that God does not “regret” (Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29), it refers to the decisions to bless Israel and to install David’s kingdom. God’s lack of regret in these instances shows that the Lord does not retract divine grants and blessings, “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).

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48 COMMENTS

  1. Hallelujah
    I have actually spent time reading about Noah and the floods
    What a Mighty God we serve.
    To Him all glory and adoration be given Amen
  2. anthropomorphism? In other since Yahweh is omniscience, He has to be able to relate to us (in order to be a personal, caring, but still all knowing-meaning, Yahweh knew ‘A’ would happen at given time & place & how we would react to ‘A’-deity, He has to put on His anthropomorphic costume. Therefore, He doesn’t ‘appear’ to be apathetic. Maybe the title of your article should be ‘Is Yahweh faking it?’
    • There’s no evidence in Scripture that God wears an “anthropomorphic costume.” It's imprudent to import extra-biblical assumptions into the text and then manipulate the text based on these assumptions. The biblical authors wrote about God having regret; the modern reader does not get to tell the ancient authors what God is “really” like, nor does the data go away when it’s called “anthropomorphism.” To claim that God is not really experiencing regret (or “faking it”) is to sacrifice Scripture on the altar of presupposition.
  3. We err when we try to give to God human characteristics. Humans often begin an action only later to feel disappointment, or regret, when the results are seen. Since God knows the results before the action He is never disappointed for he never expects more than delivered.
    • Jim, the biblical authors give God these characteristics. It is not the modern reader's right to refashion the original authors' words in order to align them with theological presuppositions. To claim that God is "never disappointed" is to dismiss the majority of the biblical data. For instance, see the following: https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/jesus-wept-human-divine/

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  4. Context is so important. It seems that I spend half my life correcting sheep who have been taught that by memorizing and repeating certain "Cherry-Picked verses (devoid of context), they can manipulate God and force him to do their will...
    • Thanks for your comment, David. While learning single verses is fine as an intellectual exercise, you're right that non-contextual verse memorization should not be the focus of the serious Bible reader. Instead, I encourage students of Scripture to learn the basic narrative of chapters, rather than the exact verbiage of verses.
  5. In other word, God doesn’t regret when it comes to covenant, however, because God has given us a freedom to act and react, He may regret assigned an assignment to somebody. On other occasions, God has changed His mind about wiping out Israelites, while they went astray in the wilderness, however, when Moses stand for Israel and asked God not to that, God listened to Moses. What is your take on that? Thanks.
    • Well put, George. God doesn't regret when it comes to covenant, but may regret other decisions (e.g., making humanity before the flood; Gen 6:6-7). The episode in Numbers 14 is another good example of God changing course. Moses intervenes on Israel's behalf and God chooses to "pardon" Israel according to Moses' word (14:20). This is one of many examples of God being influenced by human words and/or actions, which shows that God is genuinely interactive in relationship with humanity. Thanks for studying with us.
  6. There's no evidence in Scripture that God wears an "anthropomorphic costume." It is unwise to import extra-biblical assumptions (e.g., "omniscience," "anthropomorphism") into the text and then manipulate the text based on these assumptions. The biblical authors wrote about God having regret (along with many other emotions); the modern reader does not get to tell the ancient authors what God is "really" like, nor does the data go away when it's called "anthropomorphism." To claim that God is not really experiencing regret (or "faking it") is to sacrifice Scripture on the altar of pietistic presupposition.
  7. We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
  8. When God says he regrets making humanity may this actually mean that he is expressing his hurt because of humanity's sins?
    • Good question, Jay. It's both. Before the flood, "The Lord regretted (nacham) that he made humanity on the earth, and he was grieved (yitatsev) to his heart" (Gen 6:6). God is grieved internally (i.e., emotionally hurt because of humanity's violence and sin), and God regrets that act of human creation because of such grief.
  9. Nicholas, Really? If you knew millions (or even billions) of years beforehand, how someone would response to certain circumstances, how can you express genuine emotions or feelings when you knew this would happen (and in certain situations, created the circumstances of the event)? Christian Apologetics is a branch of Theology that discusses Yahweh’s divine foreknowledge and human free will. It’s perfectly fine to have these discussions.
    • Foreknowledge doesn't obviate emotion: one can know in advance that a loved one will die, and still feel genuine sadness after she passes away. Similarly, God can know outcomes in advance and still be emotional when they come to fruition.

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  10. What makes me wonder is if God can see the future or exists in all times and all places then why would he regret anything? It leads me to believe that he regrets having to do the things that are necessary.
    • Good question, Adam. Perhaps we must allow the biblical text to dictate our understanding of God, rather than letting "if-then" statements dictate our conclusions about God.
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